Great Music of the 20th Century

Travel into the lives of the great 20th-century composers and immerse yourself in the era's sublime musical masterworks.
Great Music of the 20th Century is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 66.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Could this lecture become a classic? Talking about the 20th century is not easy for any subject; for music it can be downright treacherous. I agree this was not Dr. Greenberg's best - and I don't necessarily agree with everything he says - but considering the constraints, this was a valiant effort. I started the review thinking 4 stars but it's hard to give Greenberg anything less than 5 stars, especially after the last lecture. I'm cautiously applying Einstein's principle (I being the mediocre mind). I also haven't gone thru all the URL links but the Rite of Spring dance was breathtaking to watch. Can't imagine what the original audience experienced seeing it live.
Date published: 2021-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Better Understand Modern Concert Music Dr. Greenberg is an excellent lecturer in this well-designed course. At first I was taken aback by there not being music included withing the DVD's, but I developed a work-around: I entered all the URL's into an Excel spreadsheet, and then copy each of them onto a separate computer hooked to a good sound system. Then it is a simple matter of halting the DVD, and listening to the music -- and the URL section of the coursebook lists the sections of the YouTube video to listen to. I specifically appreciate the links to the language of the composer and to the history of the time -- this allows a much deeper appreciation of the context and the reasons, in many cases, for the work being created. He explains impressionism and expressionism as the composer's conception of the external world (impressionism -- and French) and the internal world (expressionism -- and German, originally). I also like his identification of other 20th Century music such as rhythm and blues, ragtime, jazz, great music. This course, along with the excellent San Francisco Symphony's "Keeping Score" DVD's created by Michael Tilson Thomas which includes works by Charles Ives, Mahler, Stravinsky and Shostakovitch (all 20th Century music icons -- and included in this course) afford a well taken education in modern concert music. Once you get past the somewhat clumsy need to use YouTube to supplement the lectures, you will be rewarded amply.
Date published: 2021-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful as usual Even though there are no musical excerpts played in the video, I learned a lot about contemporary music in a straightforward and entertaining manner. (And if you want some 20th century music lectures where the music is included directly, try Greenberg’s The Concerto.)
Date published: 2021-01-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great lecturer, not so great course I have almost all of Robert Greenberg's courses and I like them all...except this one. As ever he is a great lecturer but the integration of the samples and the lecturers, which has to be done by separate URLs because of copyright law just doesn't work. By the time one has gone off the lecturer to find the URL the thread is lost and if one waits until the end of the lecture it is difficult to remember just what we are looking for. I recommend any of Greenberg's other courses without reservation but give this one a miss.
Date published: 2020-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative. Great lectures. The course was excellent but the necessity to move back and forth between the lectures and Utube was extremely distracting.
Date published: 2020-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A superb course requiring some concerted effort Overall, Robert Greenberg’s courses are the most consistently excellent among the 112 (from 65 professors) I have taken to date. He is authoritative, articulate, polished, and entertaining, and each lecture is invariably well organized and presented, clearly integrated into the others in the course. I hesitated for more than a year to order this one after it came out, despite a keen interest in the subject matter, because of early reviews commenting on the lack of musical examples in the presentations. A music appreciation course with no musical examples? However, as Dr Greenberg explains clearly, this is beyond his (and particularly the Teaching Company’s) control, owing to copyright restrictions on works by artists who have lived within the last 100 years. More importantly, he more than makes up for this by assembling an extensive reference bank of YouTube and other internet recordings, linked to the lecture contents in the well-produced course booklet. In fact, although this setup requires some extra effort by the course taker, with a cumulative duration of several hours the musical examples offered are far more extensive than would have been possible with the usual brief inserts in the lectures themselves. I found accessing them to be more convenient going through Dr Greenberg’s website (referenced in the book) than by entering the individual URLs. The setup isn’t perfect—10-15 percent of the intended examples could not be accessed, at least by me—but I found it easily workable. And with 24 45-minute lectures plus potentially 30-60+ minutes of additional internet “homework” for each lecture, this turns out to be quite a hefty, comprehensive course. As usual, Dr Greenberg integrates each composer and composition into the broader historical and social context, something that makes his presentations much more understandable and relevant than in the music courses I took in college. The music of the 20th Century is more heterogeneous in accessibility and attractiveness than its earlier counterparts—for me, anyway. Although I’ll never be a fan of ultraserialism or most electronic music, in this course I discovered numerous composers and works I was unfamiliar with and that I liked a lot.
Date published: 2020-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good survey of modern music I have waited a long time for a course that looked at the music of the last century and Professor Greenburg did not disappoint. It was great to know more about the modern music of Debussey, Stravinksy and Schoenburg a lot more as these men owe much to the shape and change of 20th century music. I liked particularly knowing more about composes I had never heard of before like Pierre Boulez. I think one of the weaknesses of this course was that Greenburg was unable to dissect the music featured in here like he has done in his previous courses. But in his defense, with copyright issues being what they are that makes his previous style of teaching and showcase difficult. At this point, my feeling was that at this point Greenburg knows that his audience is well versed enough in his courses that were are independent enough to listen for ourselves. I think that marks him as a great teacher.
Date published: 2020-01-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very different experience There are no music excerpts only url's to performances. That makes it hard to understand the lectures if you listen while on a treadmill or while walking. I have many of Prof. Greenberg's courses and I have enjoyed all of them. This one is different and it is proving to be a struggle.
Date published: 2019-11-17
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The 20th century was a breeding ground of musical innovation and transformation unlike any other era in history. Within this course, you'll discover the genius of composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Bart?k, Ligeti, Ad?s, and many others. In Great Music of the 20th Century, you'll experience the superlative musical art that so vividly and unforgettably speaks to the life of our times.


Robert Greenberg
Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.


San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres. Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

Great Music of the 20th Century


20th-Century Music: Be Afraid No Longer!

01: 20th-Century Music: Be Afraid No Longer!

Look first at the goals of this course, as it will explore the principal trends in 20th-century concert music, and the historical issues and events that shaped them. As background, delve into the history of musical notation as it gave rise to composed music, and take account of the upheavals, political and social catastrophes, and paradigm shifts that affected music in the 20th century.

47 min
Setting the Table and Parsing Out Blame

02: Setting the Table and Parsing Out Blame

Examine historical and social factors that influenced 20th-century composers’ abandonment of tradition and obsession with originality. Then learn about the influence of 19th-century German art on the French, and the new French nationalism in music that followed the Franco-Prussian War. Take a first look at Claude Debussy, whose revolutionary music created a new musical syntax.

44 min
Debussy and le français in Musical Action

03: Debussy and le français in Musical Action

Investigate the qualities of Debussy’s music that connect it to French art and poetry as well as to the sensuality of the French language. Learn how his landmark work, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, began musical modernism. Study the wealth of compositional innovations in his piano Prelude #10, and note how his impact on 20th-century music mirrors Beethoven’s in the 19th century.

45 min
Russia and Igor Stravinsky

04: Russia and Igor Stravinsky

In the first of two lectures on this giant of 20th-century music, trace the early life of Stravinsky, the environment in which he grew to maturity, and his musical education and influences. Follow Stravinsky’s relationship with the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, their legendary partnership in the ballets The Firebird and Petrushka, and grasp the striking musical originality of those works.

42 min
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

05: Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

Relive The Rite of Spring’s riotous premiere, and examine the qualities that made it the most influential musical work of the 20th century. Observe how Stravinsky evoked ancient pagan rituals through stunning rhythmic asymmetry, bi-tonal harmony, and other daring compositional techniques. Take account of how the Rite changed the way composers thought about rhythm, melody, and orchestration.

43 min
The Paradox of Arnold Schoenberg

06: The Paradox of Arnold Schoenberg

Schoenberg was both substantially misunderstood as a composer, and one of the greatest influences on 20th-century music. Learn about the enormous enmity and dissent that greeted his compositions, as they challenged tradition and offended musical conservatism. Trace his early life and music, his vision as a composer, and the achievements of his most “popular” work, Transfigured Night.

45 min
The Emancipation of Melody!

07: The Emancipation of Melody!

Learn about Schoenberg’s friendship with Gustav Mahler, who defended Schoenberg’s groundbreaking compositions. Study Schoenberg’s remarkable metamorphosis in which he sought to free melody from the limits of functional tonality, as exemplified in his Six Little Pieces for Piano. Examine events in Schoenberg’s personal life that may help explain his final break with musical tradition.

43 min
The Second Viennese School

08: The Second Viennese School

Here, take the measure of the Viennese triumvirate of Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, who advanced a historically new, non-tonal music. Delve into the most representative work of this era, Schoenberg’s song cycle Pierrot Lunaire, and experience Schoenberg’s stunning compositional language. Investigate the extraordinary works and contributions of Berg and Webern.

47 min
The “New” Classicism

09: The “New” Classicism

The 1920s saw both an explosion of new compositional languages and a conservative backlash against modernism. Follow the fortunes of Stravinsky, as he created a new ballet score for Diaghilev, incorporating themes from the Baroque composer Pergolesi. In Pulcinella, see how Stravinsky’s ingenious treatment of the score created a neo-Classic musical hybrid of astonishing modernist sensibility.

46 min
Schoenberg and the 12-Tone Method

10: Schoenberg and the 12-Tone Method

In 1925, Schoenberg developed a compositional system that would dominate Western concert music for 50 years. Study the elements of his “12-Tone Method,” based in the use of a “tone row” where all 12 musical pitches are used in a pre-determined sequence. Observe how this system allowed composers to write large-form, non-tonal music. Grasp its enormous influence, and its challenges for listeners.

45 min
Synthesis and Nationalism: Béla Bartók

11: Synthesis and Nationalism: Béla Bartók

Learn about Bartók’s early life and career as a pianist, and the imprint of Hungarian nationalism on his composing. Follow his remarkable travels, collecting and preserving indigenous folk music across Central and Eastern Europe. Witness these musical influences in some of his greatest compositions, and note how his works represent a musical synthesis of nearly global scope.

43 min
America’s Musical Gift

12: America’s Musical Gift

This lecture explores the rich diversity of American vernacular music, as it influenced and inspired American composers. Take account of the integral impact on America of West African musical forms, and their role in the development of blues, ragtime, and jazz. See how George Gershwin and Aaron Copland synthesized these forms in jazz-tinged masterworks that became icons of American music.

46 min
American Iconoclasts

13: American Iconoclasts

The composers under discussion here were nonconformists whose works stand virtually as separate genres of music. Begin with celebrated individualist Charles Ives, and his programmatic masterwork, Three Places in New England. Then contemplate the alternate tonal system of Harry Partch, the mega-polyphony of Elliott Carter, and the unique music scored for player pianos by Conlon Nancarrow.

47 min
The World Turned Upside Down

14: The World Turned Upside Down

Following the horrors of World War II, note how many composers sought to create music that was purged of the past, based in intellectual and scientific rigor. Investigate Ultraserialism, a compositional system in which nearly every musical element is organized “serially,” as musical pitch is in the 12-Tone Method. Experience American Ultraserialism in the brilliant works of Milton Babbitt.

46 min
Electronic Music and European Ultraserialism

15: Electronic Music and European Ultraserialism

Learn how the advent of musical synthesizers and the tape recorder gave rise to both electronic music (using sounds created electronically) and musique concrète (manipulating real sounds with a tape recorder). Witness how Ultraserialism developed within Europe, leading paradoxically to hyper-complex music which in performance sounded random—a fatal problem for listener comprehension.

46 min
Schoenberg in Exile

16: Schoenberg in Exile

Trace Schoenberg’s period of great creative output and professional flowering in the late 1920s—years which coincided with the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Following Schoenberg’s self-exile to the United States, take note of his efforts on behalf of European Jews, and study two war-inspired masterworks; his Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte and A Survivor from Warsaw.

47 min
Stravinsky in America

17: Stravinsky in America

Delve into the singular aesthetic philosophy behind Stravinsky’s neoclassic music, in which he describes his compositional process as purely formal and objective. Learn about Stravinsky’s relocation to the United States, and how in his seventies he turned to writing 12-tone music. Grasp how his last major work, Requiem Canticles, functions as a musical retrospective of his career.

48 min
For Every Action an Equal Reaction

18: For Every Action an Equal Reaction

Discover the music of visionary composers who turned away from Serialism and Ultraserialism, beginning with Hans Werner Henze and Luigi Nono. Assess the place of postwar Ultraserialism, and the factors that led many to reject it. Explore the extraordinary Stochastic or “sound mass” music of Iannis Xenakis, and how his innovations prefigured and influenced the phenomenal works of György Ligeti.

47 min
The California Avant-Garde

19: The California Avant-Garde

The cultural environment of California produced some of the most original musical thinkers of the 20th century. First encounter Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, composers of astonishing eclecticism whose works incorporated non-Western musical forms. Also meet John Cage and Morton Feldman, whose “indeterminate” music introduced new conceptions of unpredictability and a non-directional sense of time.

44 min
Rock around the Clock

20: Rock around the Clock

In approaching minimalism, trace the development of rock ‘n’ roll, and its integral impact on both American musical culture and 20th-century concert music. Grasp the musical ethos of minimalism—its rhythmic pulse, cyclical patterning and melodies, and hypnotic drive—through the groundbreaking works of the “triumvirate” of the style: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass.

45 min
East Meets West; South Meets North

21: East Meets West; South Meets North

Cover global ground in this lecture, which looks at important 20th-century composers outside of the European/American orbit. Hear the fusion of Asian and Western traditions in the music of Tōru Takemitsu (Japan), Isang Yun (Korea), Chinery Ung (Cambodia), and Tan Dun (China). Discover the musical riches of Latin American composers Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chávez, and Alberto Ginastera.

48 min
Postmodernism: New Tonality and Eclecticism

22: Postmodernism: New Tonality and Eclecticism

Postmodernism in music represented both a return to the musical values of Romanticism and an amalgam of diverse musical influences. Investigate the music of George Rochberg and David del Tredici, both of whom embraced musical styles from the past. Then explore “pastiche”—direct quotation from earlier works—in the phenomenal music of Luciano Berio, Peter Maxwell Davies, and George Crumb.

46 min
The New Pluralism

23: The New Pluralism

The 20th century ended with a trend toward “pluralism”—the practice of employing a range of different musical languages within a single work or movement. Witness the incredible range of this musical inclusivity and synthesis in composers ranging from the Americans Joseph Schwantner, Martin Bresnick, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Jennifer Higdon to the British composer Thomas Adès.

44 min
Among Friends

24: Among Friends

Finally, as a firsthand, contemporary account of one composer’s life in music, Professor Greenberg discusses his own professional journey. Trace his performing arts family background, his musical education, career path, and the finding of his voice as a composer. Hear a range of his acclaimed works, highlighting his string quartets, song cycles, and concerti.

48 min